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Mets’ early season struggles against NL East rivals a concern

Jay Bruce heads back to the dugout after striking out against the Nationals, who swept the Mets in a three-game series last weekend.
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While expectations are sky-high for the Mets this season, they have struggled early against their National League East opponents to start the season, specifically the first-place Washington Nationals.

If New York wants to clinch a division title, the team needs to improve its play against the reigning division champions. It sounds simple enough, but Washington will not go down easy and has proven to be tough to beat after sweeping the Mets in a three-game series at Citi Field last weekend. And it wasn’t even close.

New York lost the first game of the series 4-3 and Washington took the second game of the set 3-1. Then the Nationals secured the sweep with a 6-3 victory Sunday. The scores are misleading — the Nationals clearly outplayed the Mets with better hitting, pitching and defense in the telling three-game set.

The Mets have struggled to beat Washington in recent years, even with their dominant rotation. Dating back to 2014, the Mets have gone just 22-38 against the Nationals, including the first three games of 2017.

While New York’s struggles against Washington have been well documented, not all hope is lost for the Mets. They are fortunate enough to have three other sub-par teams in the division, with the Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies sitting in the cellar of the NL East.

It’s still early in the season and any one of those three teams can establish themselves as playoff contenders, but they each represent a chance for the Mets to keep pace with Washington within the division. New York has played to an 8-7 record against the trio, which is one of the reasons why Washington has been able to take a commanding five-game lead over the fourth-place Mets.

If the Mets can’t beat Washington, their struggles against the other three division foes must stop. The only way New York can keep up in the race for the division crown is if they take care of business against the Marlins, Phillies and Braves.

The Mets’ schedule gave them an opportunity to make a statement in April, with all 25 games in the month against division foes. But New York has squandered that opportunity, playing to an 8-11 record through their first 19 games, while Washington sits atop the division with a 13-6 record.

It won’t be easy to make up that ground. Washington’s rotation rivals that of the Mets, while their lineup is arguably deeper from top to bottom. The Nats’ biggest weakness is their bullpen and lack of a dominant closer, but it will be tough for the Mets to exploit that weakness due to the strength of Washington’s starting rotation.

The Mets have certainly dug themselves into a hole, and while there is reason to worry, it is still early in the season. But if the Mets want to win the division, they must improve their play against their NL East rivals.

Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewelb@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4539.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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